On Sunday, March 18, 2018, renowned Alabama artist Frank Fleming passed away. Born in Bear Creek, Alabama (roughly 155 miles northwest of Montgomery) in 1940, Fleming experienced a typical farm-boy childhood surrounded by animals and constantly outdoors. As a child, Fleming stuttered, and as a result of being teased by other children, he often turned to animals for company. He has said he felt more at home with animals than people as a child.
Because of his love for animals, Fleming originally planned to be a biology major, but when he took an elective course in art and discovered his talent, he decided instead to get a BA in art. He graduated from Florence State College in 1962 and would go on to earn his Master of Arts (1969) and Master of Fine Arts (1973) from the University of Alabama. Unable to find a teaching job, Fleming put aside his teaching ambitions and moved to Birmingham where he began making functional and decorative pottery, continuing his sculptural work on the side.
Fleming preferred to work in porcelain, particularly Tennessee porcelain, but also tried bronze casting—like his work surrounding the Till Fountain. His ceramic pieces were entirely hand-built, and he rarely created conceptual sketches of his works before he began, preferring to watch his compositions evolve as he worked. During his time at Florence State College, Fleming used paints and colored glazes but switched to clear glaze over plain white porcelain when he began to produce pottery professionally. Eventually, he came to leave the surfaces of his works unglazed to make surface textures more palpable and immediate to the viewer.
Fleming’s sculptures are notable for their extreme veracity of detail which makes them highly realistic. The disjunction between the careful detailing and colorless surfaces of his works, however, lends a bizarre, and many times surreal, atmosphere to his pieces. Most of Fleming’s works center around anthropomorphized animals, human-animal hybrids, and other organic hybrids. Humor is a common undercurrent in many of his works which is sometimes ironic, sometimes whimsical, and sometimes directed at Southern culture.
In addition to being an outstanding and creative talent in our state, Frank Fleming was a good friend to the Museum. He consistently supported the Museum’s Art Auction fundraisers, and he was generous with his time in working with our educators and docents. In addition to the Till Fountain, the Museum holds four other works by Fleming, including two porcelain sculptures that demonstrate his amazing facility in the use of clay.